By Nancy Winckler-ZunigaMatthew Laney remembers his first volunteer effort vividly. He was all of 14 and saw a television spot asking for volunteers for a March of Dimes dance-athon. The long night of helping dancers stay on their feet was made easier by being the only male volunteer on a team of seven.
“It was a long event, but fun, six girls and me,” Laney said.
Two years later, he became a candy striper at a hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and, like many 16-year-olds, loved the free access to the cafeteria that was the reward for bringing books and other assistance to patients.
Eventually, Laney’s desire to help others became more serious and focused. He helped at-risk children at summer camp and developed a love for rehabilitating injured birds.
A head for numbers and business led to a career as an enterprise information architect with Bi-Lo/Winn-Dixie. It also put him on a new path to helping others through United Way’s RealSense tax preparation program.
Laney’s role with the tax preparation program has taken him from preparer to site coordinator at the Carpenter’s Shop site.
“I originally volunteered at the Southside site, but then I was asked to go to Carpenter’s Shop,” Laney said. “Sometimes you end up where you’re needed.”
He is encouraged by the clients who come back to look for him each year.
“They say, ‘I’m going to wait for Mr. Matthew,'” said Laney, adding that the site is especially important because it is one of the few Spanish-speaking sites.
“One couple had gone to a tax preparer near Orlando. They had gotten lots back,” Laney said. “They kept saying that it was wrong. They had the cash in hand, waiting to give it to me.”
Laney said that the couple had been given $8,000, which they knew was too much. He was able to file an incident report against the Orlando operation, correct the situation and help the couple file their taxes properly.
Laney loves the camaraderie of being with the other volunteers.
“You meet people; it’s a good time,” he said. “It’s work, but fun work — from students filing their first returns to the sometimes tough-to-deal-with emotional moments.”